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Player Spotlight: Ladarius Green

A detailed look at Ladarius Green's fantasy prospects for 2016

Note: Green's current injury situation is unclear. He's disputed reports of recurring post-concussion headaches, but remains on the Steelers' PUP list with an ankle injury.


 

As a Player

Well, as a player, he’s just tantalizing, to the point of sheer fantasy torment. Green isn’t the first ultra-athletic TE/WR hybrid to gain a rabid fan base – he’s roughly the 4,761st – but he’s the crown-carrier of the last half-decade. He’s blessed with supreme athleticism in virtually every aspect: dominant size, a height-adjusted speed score in the 92nd percentile, and a catch radius that compares with anyone more human than Jimmy Graham. And all of that has shown up in Green’s playmaking ability. As a pro, 19 of his 77 career catches have covered 20+ yards despite his being thrown to mostly near the line of scrimmage, and his 9.1% touchdown rate is on a par with some of the league’s top-scoring tight ends.

It’s fair to say that Green’s efficiency has waned, but it’s also teetered on the brink of star quality. It’s indeed concerning that his yardage per target dipped markedly in 2015, his first year of solid usage. Green dazzled in extremely limited time over his first two seasons, but as his snap count increased, he failed to find a more extensive role in the Chargers passing game. The team simply looked to other options – primarily Antonio Gates, but also their slot wideouts – in lieu of Green.

We caught a glimpse of Green the starter in 2015, when he drew 18 targets in three games sans Gates. But once Gates returned, Green largely returned to his disappearing act from the offense. It’s tough to really see why: Green is a solid blocker, and he’s been more efficient as a receiver than Gates, albeit in a small sample. Some of it could be attributed to a mid-season ankle tweak. Still, it was enough to hold back his development as a heavy-usage player – and enough to delay us seeing Full-on Ladarius Green before we make a TE1 leap in our drafts.

Opportunity Knocks

Let’s first examine how outgoing Steelers tight end Heath Miller produced in this offense. Miller peaked statistically in 2012, with a 71-816-8 line on a career-high 101 targets, an 18.8% share of the Steelers passing game. That’s a very nice chunk of the pie, but the team has tempered its tight end usage a bit since then:

 

2012

2013

2014

2015

Team TE Targ%

20.2%

16.7%

15.8%

16.1%

H.Miller Targ

101

79

91

81

H.Miller PPR TE Fin

5

18

11

19

It's noteworthy that coordinator Todd Haley has rarely utilized the tight end spot prominently, with only one (Tony Moeaki) topping 24 receptions in five seasons before joining the Steelers. Miller, by far the best TE Haley has ever coached, was able to buck that trend and then some, but there’s little reason to just expect that from the next man up. I’m comfortable projecting Green’s usage in the passing game to fall noticeably short of Miller’s; his sheer ceiling is likely in the 85-90 target range.

Which means that, in order for Green to reach Miller’s typically mediocre fantasy value, he’d need to do quite a bit more with his targets. He’d need a big boost in per-target efficiency – a tall order, considering Miller’s sterling 72.6% catch rate under Haley. More likely, Green would need a hefty yardage boost. That’s certainly possible, as he was a yards-after-catch king in San Diego. Utilized mostly near the line of scrimmage, Green saw an average depth of target (aDOT) under 5.0 across his Chargers career, but turned it into a robust 14.1 yards per catch. Bringing more youth and athleticism to the table then the outgoing Miller, that 85-90 target ceiling could easily produce 800+ yards.

Or, Green could finally make his mark with touchdowns, dominating near the goal line with his prototypical build and athleticism. And there should be plenty of opportunity to do so. Over the last two years, only two teams (Green Bay and New England) have snapped the ball more often from inside the 10-yard line than Pittsburgh, and only the Packers have thrown more passes. And over that span, Miller was targeted 16 times – more than Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, Greg Olsen, and a host of other fantasy studs. Green may lack Miller’s rapport with Ben Roethlisberger, but he certainly brings the right profile to the table. Reaching 8-10 touchdowns would surely take the sting out of a relatively low-volume season.

The Injury Bug

We can’t lose sight of the fact that Green has suffered three concussions over the last two seasons, including two in an 11-day span in 2015. I’m not interested in trying to predict concussions, but a guy who suffers several is automatically flagged in my brain. It’s one of the reasons I’m not even glancing at Jordan Reed this year, so a far less accomplished player like Green definitely brings hesitation.

It’s also very notable that Green underwent ankle surgery this offseason and did not participate in OTAs. The recovery itself isn’t particularly concerning, as our own Dr. Jene Bramel told me:

“Not enough specifics out there to know anything with certainty unfortunately. But it was nice to see him on sideline without a boot. Should mean he's in last stages of rehab and has a good chance at clearance in the early weeks of camp.”
 

But as always, we have to at least consider the loss of his summer on the practice field. Green will have (some of) training camp and preseason with the team, but that may not be enough to secure a big early-season role with a new team. His conditioning and on-field fit will need to be monitored.

Positives

  • A superb athlete, complete with utterly dominant size and world-beating speed, and a mismatch on multiple levels of an offense
  • Assuming his health, stands unquestioned atop a TE depth chart that lacks true passing-game competition
  • Could see more targets than expected with Martavis Bryant suspended for the season
  • Not much of a touchdown resume, but carries the size/athleticism profile to gain one in a high-volume (and typically pass-first) red zone offense

Negatives

  • Very little by way of a track record, with just 122 targets across four seasons of limited snaps
  • Steps into an offense that likes to throw, but won’t come close the pass ratio his Chargers utilized
  • Underwent ankle surgery this offseason and may not participate much in camp
  • “Boasts” a concussion count that should make any drafter nervous
  • Currently boasts a 12-team ADP (9.11, and he’s been going as early as the 7th in MFL10 drafts) that’s still priced nearer to his ceiling than his fair projections

Final Thoughts

By piecing together the bolded parts of this evaluation, you’ll see I’m very mindful of Green’s immense on-paper upside. Green is indeed the prototypical tight end super-crush – an enormous, fast, athletic yards-after-catch monster capable of creating a mismatch anywhere. And without significant competition beyond Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, and Le’Veon Bell, the path is in place to his first fantasy-useful season. But be sure to take in the whole picture before taking an early leap. With all of his physical gifts, it’s at least a little puzzling as to why he was never used much in San Diego. It’s fair, of course, to note that Green’s path to the starting lineup has been blocked by a surefire Hall of Famer. But Gates has declined noticeably in recent years, making us wonder why Green wasn’t pushed into a more extensive role.

The bottom line is that the TE spot is very middle-heavy in 2016 drafts, and Green’s ADP represents a relatively early leap. I don’t see him as a demonstrably better fantasy prospect than the likes of Eric Ebron, or even Antonio Gates himself, both of whom are coming off the board 3-4 rounds later. Even with all of my fan-love for Green, I’m not yet comfortable taking him in single-digit rounds. There are big questions in play: a new team, volume, and semi-scary injury issues.

It’s fun to chase a talent like Green, and he could pay off handsomely. But don’t get into a bidding war – especially until we gain some insight into his red flags.

Projections

Staff Member

Gm

Rec

RecYd

TD

Justin Howe

16

50

655

5

David Dodds

16

55

688

4

Jason Wood

16

57

690

6

Bob Henry

16

55

650

5

Other Viewpoints

Pro Football Focus’ George Fitopolous is certainly on board:

“Green has definite TE1 upside in fantasy for the 2016 season as the top tight end for a prolific passing offense and fantasy owners shouldn’t be worried at all about backups Matt Spaeth and Jesse James taking significant snaps away. There are plenty of mouths to feed in Pittsburgh between Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and Le’Veon Bell, but this offense looks poised for a special run in 2016.”

While J.J. Zachariason is staying cautious:

“At the end of the day, though, the only guys in that offense with confident volume are [Le’Veon] Bell and [Antonio] Brown. There's not insane opportunity. Which is another reason I'm not as high on Ladarius as others. He'll score and be a good MFL10 tight end, but how much volume is there?”